Stewardship Part 6:  Our offerings to God—and others

Over the past several weeks, we have discussed Scriptural giving in Genesis.  As we know, salvation history begins properly with the call of the Patriarch Abram, later known as Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees and the Lord’s promise to bless him and his descendants after him.

In our last lesson we discussed Jacob, the grandson of Abraham and his flight from his brother Esau to Haran.  In Haran he worked for his father-in-law Laban, who took advantage of him and changed his wages ten times.  But the Lord blessed Jacob in spite of the cunning nature of his father-in-law with eleven children, prospered him and enabled him to sooth the tensions with his brother Esau by softening his heart with a generous gift.  Initially, upon his return to the land of Canaan, Jacob was fearful of his brother and he prayed:  “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies.  Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children.  For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered’” (Genesis 32:9-12).  Whereas, he only had a staff when he fled his brother and considered himself wholely unworthy of the Lord’s blessings, he now returns acknowledging that all he had attained was from the Lord and the Lord had immensely blessed him.

Jacob, who was greatly afraid of the wrath of his brother because of his own previously manipulative behavior, sent Esau a gift to soften his heart.  “He selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys” (Genesis 32:13-15).  God’s faithfulness to Jacob is revealed in a variety of ways, but here in the abundance of his blessings.  The Lord had blessed him so greatly, he was able to appease his brother’s wrath with a magnificent gift.  Even by today’s standards, this would be a very costly gift for a shepherd.
If you remember, the Lord made a promise to Jacob: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.  Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).  Likewise, Jacob was faithful in fulfilling his vow unto the Lord: “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.  This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You” (Genesis 28:20-22).  Jacob returned home, but the prosperity and blessing he enjoyed were not his own doing, and he knew it.  It was not because of his father-in-law, but in spite of him.  Jacob knew that all that he had upon his return was because the Lord had blessed him.

Later in Jacob’s life there was a famine in the land, so he and his sons moved to Egypt, where his sons were eventually enslaved by Pharoah after Jacob’s death.  As we know, the Lord raised up Moses to deliver His people because of His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Their passing through the Red Sea is compared to our Baptism, because it is by passing through the Red Sea that they were freed from slavery to Pharoah and Pharoah’s armies were destroyed.  Yet not all those who were set free entered the promised land because of their disobedience and lack of gratitude for God’s saving activity.  Likewise, by Baptism we are freed from bondage to Satan and the power of the demons is crushed.  We are set free and given the potential of eternal life by using our newfound freedom in a way that glorifies God.  We, like Israel of old, are sojourning to the Kingdom and to a city whose builder and maker is God.  Having said that, we are also partakers of the Kingdom and eternal life as we use our freedom, gifts, talents and abilities to glorify God.  Yet like Israel of old, some may not enter the Kingdom because of disobedience and ingratitude.

Israel of old, having passed through the Red Sea, were made free, and the Lord gave them the Torah (which literally means “teaching”) to help them regulate life within the community and maintain their relationship with Him.  One’s relationship with his neighbor is a good indicator of one’s love for God.  (Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan?)  He instructed that each tribe was to have its own territory when they entered the promised land except the sons of Levi—the priests who maintained and served in the Tabernacle and were supported by the Tithe from the other eleven tribes.  Throughout the first five books of the Bible, we hear the recurring phrase, “I am the Lord God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, with a strong hand and an outstrecthed arm, preceeding the Lord’s commandments or teachings.  The Lord expects obedience out of gratitude for His saving acts.  As part of the Torah or teaching, the Lord gave instructions on giving of the first fruits.  We are told in the Book of Numbers chapter 18:8-32:  “Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, ‘Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment.  This shall be yours from the most holy gifts reserved from the fire; every offering of theirs, even every grain offering and every sin offering and every guilt offering, which they shall render to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons.  As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it.  It shall be holy to you.  This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment.  Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it.  All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the Lord, I give them to you.  The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it.  Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours.  Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem.  As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.  But the firstborn of an ox or the firstborn of a sheep or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy.  You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke as an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the Lord.  Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh.  All the offerings of the holy gifts, which the sons of Israel offer to the Lord, I have given to you and your sons and your daughters with you, as a perpetual allotment.  It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord to you and your descendants with you.’  Then the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel.  To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.  The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die.  Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance.  For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’  Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe.  Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat.  So you shall also present an offering to the Lord from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the Lord’s offering to Aaron the priest.  Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the Lord, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.  You shall say to them, When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat.  You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting.  You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it.  But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die.’”

The above passage is only a sampling of the instructions the Lord gave the children of Israel concerning offerings, yet it is quite clear there were a variety of offerings in addition to the tithe.  The tithe was primarily to support the priestly tribe and the Tent of Meeting.  The tithe came from the first fruits of produce as well as livestock.  Even the first born child was included, but to be redeemed as a remebrance that everything comes from God.  Some offerings were to be totally consumed by fire upon the Altar, others could be eaten by the priests and their families, yet even the priests were to offer a tithe of the tithe to Aaron the High Priest!  Offerings were considered Holy.  The tithe was the basic offering everyone was expected to give—ten percent of the first fruits of the produce and livestock.  Other offerings were thank offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, etc., above and beyong the tithe.  Therefore, almsgiving—i.e., charity for the poor, the widow and the orphan—were above the tithe.  As we proceed through Holy Scripture, we will find amongst the prophets that the litmus test of a person’s sincere devotion to God is their care and concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  James, the brother of our Lord says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).  In the Book of Leviticus 19:9-10 we read: “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.  I am the Lord your God.”

The major point, we find once again, is that every good and perfect gift comes from God.  There is nothing we have that did not come from Him.  Secondly, because He is our Creator and Redeemer, we should honor the Lord and express our gratitude through giving back to Him the First-Fruits of all with which He has blessed us.  Third, our gratitude to the Lord for His saving acts in our own lives is not limited to what we offer to Him, but is also expressed in our helping those in need, i.e., the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  In 1 John 3:14-18 we read: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”  The Scripture here does not simply refer to those as brothers who share the same earthly mother and father or ancestral heritage, but all who have in common our Heavenly Father and are made in His image and likeness.